“Only a thin knife’s edge separates reality from illusion.”
“Black witchcraft as real as your nightmares.”
These are quotes from classic horror movie trailers. My first acting gig was in a film called “Asylum of Terror.” Once I was on a set, I thought, “Hey, I could do this.” Ah, the ignorance of youth. The first films I made were in the horror genre and they are damn fun to make. Horror is often a gateway into the broader film world. Before “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson made the cult classic “Dead Alive.” Previous to “Titanic,” James Cameron directed “Piranha II.” Jack Nicholson, with his 12 Oscar nominations, was discovered by the father of independent cinema, Roger Corman.
One of horror’s literary kingpins is the Capital Region’s Bruce Hallenbeck. He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on things that go bump in the night. Hallenbeck writes for dozens of magazines like Rue Morgue, Cinemafantistique and Femme Fatales, plus he’s written over a dozen books on the history of genre films and has won two Rondo Awards for his writing.
“The Rondo awards are named after Rondo Hatten, a classic B-movie actor, and I won writer of the year in 2010 and 2013 for my articles. When Guillermo Del Toro won the award in 2012, he said he would rather win a Rondo than an Oscar,” Hallenbeck says.
Hallenbeck has written for Little Shop of Horrors magazine since 1980. In an era when publications struggle, horror magazines, films and conventions thrive with a rabid sense of community.
“I’ve been blessed to meet my idols. I corresponded with Peter Cushing (‘Curse of Frankenstein,’ ‘Star Wars’) for years before his death and was honored to call him friend,” he says.
Hallenbeck’s interest in films began when he was 5. “I remember I was watching a movie on TV with my dad called ‘The Undying Monster.’ It was a werewolf movie and I was fascinated by the atmosphere, the monster, and I was hooked forever. When I was 8 years old I had what I called a ‘Monster Tour’ birthday party. I was the guide and my cousins would be dressed up and hiding in the bushes and would jump out and scare everyone who came through.”
Hallenbeck sold short stories and articles out of high school and eventually wrote screenplays. He would realize his darkest machinations producing his own horror films. He wrote three horrotica films for the now defunct Seduction Cinema. This writer can neither confirm nor deny seeing “Dr. Jeckyl and Mistress Hyde,” “The Witches of Sappho Salon” or “Mummy Raider.”
“Oh we are gonna talk about those, huh?” Hallenbeck laughs. “I have no shame. I even used my own name. More people have seen those movies than anything else I made, so there’s that. I did get a good review for ‘Mummy Raider,’ which mentioned some pretty funny dialogue amidst the undead and lesbian sex scenes.”
His latest book, “Poe Pictures,” is a comprehensive history on the adaptations of the stories of Edgar Allen Poe in movies Stephen King used the term “Poe Pictures” in his book on writing, “Dance Macabre” to describe Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe-based films.
“This is my longest book and it’s a comprehensive retrospective,” Hallenbeck says. “I love behind the scenes stories. I talked to an actor in his 90s named David Franken who was on a Roger Corman film in the ’70s called “Tales Of Terror,” which starred Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone. I also tracked down filmmaker Mark Redfield in Baltimore, who made a really great independent movie on the death of Poe.”
Some of the earliest images committed to celluloid were horror films. What the blues is to rock ‘n’ roll, horror is to filmmaking. As long as people have breath, to scream that is, Hallenbeck will be writing about those great undying monsters.
Jon Russell Cring is a Troy-based filmaker who’s most recent film Darcy was featured at the Film Columbia festival in Chatham NY. He and his wife have worked on films such as The Neighbohood That Disapeared and The Night We Met.